“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” During the week of Sept. 22, this advertisement was displayed at 10 subway stations in New York City. It was created by Pamela Geller, the executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), and paid for by that organization. Although MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) initially refused to run the ad, a federal judge ruled that it is protected under the First Amendment. Once again, New York became the focal point for anti-Islamic activities.
It is one thing when claims against an opposing group are specific and accurate. However, when they are incorrectly defined and produce more ignorance than knowledge, we have a problem. By misusing the term, “jihad,” the AFDI worsens the existing problem of over-generalizing and mis-perceiving Islam, which leads to Islamophobia. Most people know jihad as “holy war,” waged against enemies in the name of the religion. To them, “jihad” is the war caused by Bin Laden and other extremists, but these few people do not represent most Muslims. The image of entire groups, whether identified by race, religion, etc. should not be blackened by the ludicrous acts of a few deviants.
CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations)-Chicago’s Ahmed Rehab defines jihad as “the struggle against ignorance, injustice and hate. It is the struggle against the darkness in one’s own soul. It is the struggle to be patient in times of adversity.” In light of this other definition, the AFDI is encouraging Americans to allow ignorance, injustice and hate to win. The purpose of rallying support is to properly educate citizens so that they will feel compelled to support your cause. This advertisement does not educate but rather pushes Americans further into the dark by distorting a religious tenet. The Oxford English dictionary defines savage as “of peoples or (now somewhat rarely) of individual persons: uncivilized; existing in the lowest stage of culture.” The ADFI does not promote a progressive American culture. Instead, it spreads ignorance and misrepresentation, which lead to misguided fear and intolerance. With all these actions examined, I question who the real savages in the advertisement are.
The posters also have the potential to produce serious consequences. They were displayed last month, in the aftermath of violent protests from many Muslim communities around the world over the anti-Islamic American video mocking the Prophet Muhammad, “Innocence of Muslims”. With these issues fresh in their minds, Muslims do not need yet another reason to criticize the United States. There is little reason not to expect protest when the ADFI seems to declare a war on Muslims by branding them all under their chosen definition of “holy war.” Although no major backlash has been seen, the environment is still susceptible to eruptions of protest. Not only do these conflicts set back improvements in American-Islamic relations, but they also set back the United States as a religiously tolerant, open-minded society.
The message has made a public transportation system an unnecessary center of anti-Islamic controversy. To prevent future occurrences, such inciting advertisements should be banned or, at the very least, restricted. That is exactly what the MTA is doing. Although it was unsuccessful with the anti-jihad poster, it has amended its rules to ban future posters that it “reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.” Fortunately, so far, the major actions taken against these posters have been peaceful. A few weeks after the ADFI advertisements, a Christian group and a Jewish group countered with their own posters. Their respective messages were “love your Muslim neighbors” and “in the choice between love and hate. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.”
Freedom of speech is a vital component of our country, one that we especially take pride in and sets us apart from many other countries. It is a freedom we apply constantly to enact change and better our fluid society. But when in certain situations this liberty is used to propagate ignorance and prejudice, it needs to be reconsidered. This case does not improve our culture.